South Africa


Fast-food advertising is a threat to children’s right to health, says report

Fast-food advertising is a threat to children’s right to health, says report

Fast foods are cheap, easily accessible and keep the kids happy, but, according to the latest Child Gauge report, they fuel high levels of weight gain and obesity in South African children. Fast-food advertising makes the problem worse and poses a marked threat to children’s constitutional right to health.

South Africa is facing a double burden of malnutrition in children. There are simultaneously high levels of stunting (an indicator of chronic undernutrition) and high numbers of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese.

This is according to the 2020 South African Child Gauge released on Thursday 18 February. The annual report, compiled by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, monitors progress towards realising children’s rights. The 2020 report focused on food and nutrition security.

The 2016 South African Demographic and Health Survey found that 27% of children under the age of five suffered from stunting, while in the same age group 13% were overweight or obese. More than 17% of adolescents aged 15 to 19 were overweight or obese – a problem that is likely to carry over into adulthood.

Unhealthy foods are cheap, easy to access and convenient, especially for poorer households. Based on the report, fast-food consumption by South African children and adolescents is already high, and advertising that targets children is exacerbating the issue.

A 2014 study carried out in 17 countries found that young people in South Africa ate fast food more frequently than their counterparts in high-income countries like Japan and Belgium. Transnational corporations like KFC and McDonald’s are targeting children in developing nations because their own markets have become saturated and regulations are tighter.

Although research into food marketing aimed at children is scarce in South Africa, a 2015 study on SA television adverts found that more than 80% used child actors, close to 10% had tie-ins to popular television shows and cartoon characters like SpongeBob and Spiderman, while many of the adverts used phrases like “good food made for great kids” and “smarter, tougher, faster”.

Case studies in the Child Gauge report found that adverts used emotional devices to create positive associations with fast food, such as linking it to ideas of family, home or a sense of agency in children.

Apart from traditional advertising via television and billboards, children are targeted on social media. Advergames (games developed to advertise a brand or product), embedded advertising messages and users being encouraged to like or follow brand pages are some of the tactics used.

“Fast-food advertising compromises children’s rights to health. It also undermines their rights to protection from exploitation through persuasive media messages and rapidly changing foodways,” the report read.

But tighter regulations are lacking.

Regulation of advertising to children is largely through self-monitoring by food industries and marketing companies. In 2008 the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa adopted the South African Marketing to Children Pledge, to limit unhealthy food marketing to children aged 12 and younger during certain broadcasting time slots.

Industry self-regulation has proved to be ineffective.

Additionally, in 2014 the national Department of Health introduced amendments to the Foods, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, which included draft regulations (R429) that aimed to ban the advertising of unhealthy food to children, but these regulations have not been passed into law.

This was four years after member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreed to implement measures such as legislation to limit unhealthy food marketing to children.

Some of the WHO’s key recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children are:

  • Food and beverage companies, food outlets, marketing industries, and the media and entertainment industry should promote healthy diets for children and youth.
  • Governments should partner with the private sector to create long-term programmes to support adults in promoting healthy food for children.
  • State and local educational authorities should support healthy food for children in school environments.
  • Government should use available public policy levers at all levels to foster healthy diets for children and youth.
  • National multidisciplinary research capacity should address the influence of food marketing on children and youth.

To combat unhealthy food choices in children, the report proposed involving children in food preparation or encouraging them to take part in school or community gardening projects to pique their interest in producing healthy food.

“While fast-food advertising warrants careful critical scrutiny, it must also be connected to the broader economic system that controls how and what people eat.” MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gerhard Pretorius says:

    What is meant by the term fast food? Are all fast food promoting obesity? Can someone explain why is a burger unhealthy? It contains carbo’s, protein, vitamins and because of fierce competition is mostly super fresh.
    And the WHO wants authorities to exercise even more control over its subjects. Kids get fat as a result of advertising? Really?
    This entire article leaves much to be desired.

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